STATE: The Law of the Land
Israel's Declaration of Independence
The prevailing characteristic of the Israeli legal system is the large corpus of independent statutory and case law which has been evolving since 1948.
Upon attaining independence (1948), Israel passed the Law and Administration
Ordinance, stipulating that laws prevailing in the country prior to statehood
would remain in force insofar as they did not contradict the principles embodied
in the Proclamation
of the Establishment of the State of Israel or would not conflict with laws
to be enacted by the Knesset. Thus the legal system includes remnants of Ottoman
law (in force until 1917), British Mandate laws, which incorporate a large body
of English common law, elements of Jewish religious law, and some aspects of
However, the prevailing characteristic of the legal system is the large
corpus of independent statutory and case law which has been evolving since 1948.
Following the establishment of the state, the Knesset was empowered to enact a
series of Basic Laws, relating to all aspects of life, which will eventually be
brought together to form a constitution. Many Basic Laws have been passed,
outlining the fundamental features of government such as the President, the
Knesset, the Government, the Judiciary, the Israel Defense Forces, the State
Comptroller, Freedom of Occupation and Human Dignity and Liberty (which
addresses violation of a person’s life, body or dignity).
The normative superiority of Basic Laws over ordinary legislation was
confirmed in 1995, when the Supreme Court assumed the power of judicial review of
Knesset legislation violating a Basic Law.
Over the years, a body of case law has developed through Supreme
Court rulings which protect civil liberties, including freedom of speech,
freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and equality as fundamental values of
Israel's legal system.
In its capacity as the High Court of Justice, the Supreme Court also hears
petitions brought by individuals appealing for redress against any government
body or agent.
The government's legal service is headed by the attorney general
, who holds
exclusive power to represent the state in all major criminal, civil, and
administrative matters. The government is bound to abstain from any action
which, in the opinion of the attorney-general, is unlawful, as long as the
courts do not rule otherwise.
Although appointed by the government, the attorney-general functions
independently of the political system.
The State Comptroller
The State Comptroller's Office
, established by law (1949) to assure public
accountability, carries out external audit and reports on the legality,
regularity, economy, efficiency, effectiveness and moral integrity of public
Since 1971, the state comptroller also serves as ombudsman, receiving
complaints from the public against state or public bodies subject to the
comptroller's audit. The state comptroller is elected by the Knesset in a secret
ballot for a seven-year term and is responsible only to the Knesset.
The scope of state audit includes the activities of all government
ministries, state institutions, branches of the defense establishment, local
authorities, government corporations, etc. In addition, the state comptroller is
empowered by law to inspect the financial affairs of the political parties
represented in the Knesset, as well as their election campaign accounts,
imposing monetary sanctions when irregularities are found.